Sunday, April 22, 2012
A Sad Past
The air around me becomes thin and sweat is dripping down my back. Muscles that I didn't know existed are sore from walking in a 90-degree angle. How did the Vietnamese do this a little more than 30 years ago? As we continue along the narrow way, light becomes dim. We must feel around with our hands until our eyes can adjust to the dark tunnels. There it is, finally light, we have made it to the other side of this underground city. We climb the steps, relieved that our five-minute underground tour is over. As we walk along the pathway we come to a display of torture traps that were utilized by the Vietcong to inflict serious pain and life threatening injuries. I imagine falling into the sticking trap and having the four spikes pierce my skin as I am then forced to balance on a round platform to prevent the spikes from doing more damage. Then I imagine walking into the rolling trap where two wheels of multiple spikes impale several parts of my body as I crash to the bottom. One will never understand the feeling of seeing an American soldier's picture of him falling into one of these horrendous traps to his torturous death.
The Cu Chi tunnels gave everyone a perspective of the war that I don't think any of us were prepared to see. We have always viewed war from the American side, never the opposing. The tunnels and the weapons were on display, almost like a theme park. You could even buy bullets to shoot out of guns that were used during the war, causing an eerie echo of gunfire throughout the surrounding jungle. Crawling through the tunnels I was reminded of rides at a carnival. And just like the end of all rides at Disney World, this war theme park had gift shops all over selling various Viet Nam souvenirs. The way the Vietnamese choose to memorialize this time in there history is unique and quite personally, I find it bizarre.
The War Remnants museum also gives us another perspective of the war. Throughout the three stories of the museum, war crime photos and descriptive literature line the walls. In every photo American soldiers are portrayed as tall, muscular and tough, or in other words bully's. Whereas, the Vietnamese soldiers are portrayed as short, small and weak. Throughout the museum the heinous war crimes and effects of Agent Orange are depicted through brutally graphic photos as well as a pair of conjoined fetuses in a preservative container where many gathered. The atmosphere in the museum was astoundingly depressing. You feel as though all eyes are on you, the American, walking through the museum seeing the genocide your people inflicted on the Vietnamese civilization.
In Cambodia, a mass genocide occurred as well. On our trip we learned about Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge Regime and how they murdered over two million people out of a population of 8 million. Comparable with the Holocaust, certain types of people were targets for the brutality of Pot's Regime. Doctors, lawyers, and any degree-holding citizen was arrested, kept in brick cells where they were chained to the floor with shackles, and abused. The prisoners even had the ability of committing suicide taken away from them through barbed wire, which lined windows and balconies. All of this took place at S21, a high school that was converted into a concentration camp-like prison that the arrested individuals were kept in. Today, the walls are lined with photos of all the people that were victimized through this horrible time.
Upon coming to the Killing Fields I was instantly thrown back into the state of mind I was in while viewing the Cu Chi tunnels and the War Museum in Viet Nam. An overwhelming sadness over took me as I pondered the events that occurred in these fields a mere 30 years ago. In the middle of the fields lies a seven-story glass memorial which houses thousands of skulls that have risen out of the mass gravesites that cover the land we were walking on. Today, skeletal remains and clothing still rise out of the ground due to erosion. The almost too-polite sign hanging on this building says it all: "Would you please kindly show your respect to the many million people who were killed under the genocidal Pol. Pot Regime." Apparently the killings at one time became so consistent and problematic to the point that the Khmer Rouge had to install a speaker system in the trees to play ominous music so the citizens in the surrounding areas did not hear the horrendous noises the victims were making. Cambodians memorialize this traumatizing event in their history by somberly preserving the significant sites of this part of their countries history, by remembering the victims that's lives were taken during this troublesome time.
The pain and loss that the countries of Viet Nam and Cambodia have suffered through is inconceivable to most Americans who have never experienced similar events and cannot grasp the concept of such brutality. I feel tremendous sorrow for the families who have lost loved ones and who have had to overcome many challenges throughout their lives that deal with war and their countries government. Seeing these two countries and hearing about their violent past, has forever changed me. I will try to never look at things and take them for granted because in the blink of an eye it could all be gone. Hearing about the history of these countries in global studies is completely different than actually seeing where these traumatic events took place and speaking to the people who have been affected. I have realized that the classroom can only try and prepare you for real life. However, seeing things in person will help your overall understanding an affect you on a more personal level than a textbook or a lecture ever can.